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  1. Lightning

Lightning can't shoot or think straight

Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Ben Bishop (30) remains down as Tyler Johnson (9) looks on after the Detroit Red Wings scored their third foal of the game during third period action in game five of the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs at the Amalie Arena in Tampa Saturday. (04/25/15). Tampa Bay Lightning lost with a final score of 4 to 0.
Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Ben Bishop (30) remains down as Tyler Johnson (9) looks on after the Detroit Red Wings scored their third foal of the game during third period action in game five of the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs at the Amalie Arena in Tampa Saturday. (04/25/15). Tampa Bay Lightning lost with a final score of 4 to 0.
Published Apr. 26, 2015

TAMPA

This series feels over.

It's not. Not officially.

The Red Wings have three victories and it takes four to win a series in the Stanley Cup playoffs. But it sure seems as if the life has been squeezed out of the Lightning and that the Red Wings will finally put Tampa Bay away Monday night in Detroit.

No one saw this coming.

No one, except the residents of Hockeytown, saw the Lightning losing in the first round to the Red Wings. And certainly not the way it is going down.

The series and the Lightning season are slowly, agonizingly and surprisingly coming to end because the most prolific scoring team in the NHL suddenly can't, of all things, score.

"What's been frustrating is that we haven't been scoring, especially for a team that has been used to scoring," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "Pretty tough to win when the goal of the game is scoring and you're not scoring."

Tough? Try impossible.

What in the world has happened here?

This sudden and unexpected power outage is partly the Lightning's own doing. Leading goal-scorer Steven Stamkos has been invisible. Nikita Kucherov and Ryan Callahan, both 20-goal scorers, have been ghosts. The power play is on the fritz to the point where the Lightning should decline all future Detroit penalties.

Give some credit to the savvy and well-prepared Red Wings, who have turned the rink into a mosh pit full of bodies with no room to breathe, let alone skate.

And, if you want to do a little bit of whining, the officiating has let the Red Wings get away with some of the clutching and grabbing and interfering that you can't get away with in the regular season.

Then again, this isn't the regular season and, when you get right down to it, that's the point. The Red Wings are playing the type of grinding, irritating defensive style that you need for postseason success, and the Lightning is still searching for that extra gear. Detroit deserves to be a game away from winning this series.

"There's not a whole lot of room," Lightning center Valtteri Filppula said. "We don't get odd-man rushes. I don't know. They played real well, and we aren't getting a whole lot."

Check that. The Lightning isn't getting anything. Nothing. Zip.

Forget winning a game. It would be a major accomplishment at this point to get a lead.

After controlling play for the first two games, the Lightning has been clearly outworked and outclassed the past three.

Tampa Bay's miraculous comeback late in Game 4 on Thursday is the only reason this series isn't already over. Throw out those final frenzied moments at the end of Game 4 — something that now sure looks like a complete fluke — and the Lightning has come this close to being shut out three consecutive games.

"You have to give Detroit credit, they played a good game," said center Tyler Johnson, the only player you even notice consistently in the offensive zone for the Lightning.

"At the same time, there are spurts where we had some mental (lapses). That just can't happen in the playoffs."

What really can't happen in the playoffs is for the best player on the team to go into hibernation. That would be Stamkos, the 43-goal scorer during the regular season who has no goals and two assists in five games in this series.

Postgame, a rather discouraged Stamkos said he was "working my (rear end) off out there."

I have no doubt that he is. I also don't care.

In the playoffs, it's all about production, and Stamkos is not producing. There's a rumor out there that, perhaps, Stamkos is not 100 percent, and you have to wonder if there's anything to that due to his total lack of offense.

You also have to wonder if his not scoring has gotten into his head.

"No one else is feeling sorry for us or myself," Stamkos said. "We realize we've got to work hard and we'll keep doing like we're doing."

That's the problem. If the Lightning keeps doing like its doing, its season will end sometime Monday night.

If there's one bit of hope for the Lightning, it's that nothing in this series has gone as expected. The teams have traded victories. Every time Detroit wins, it feels like the Lightning's season is over. Whenever the Lightning wins, it feels as if it will win the series. Give credit to both teams for putting difficult losses behind them. Especially credit the Red Wings for coming back Saturday after what was a backbreaking loss in Game 4.

But despite the shifts in momentum with each game, one consistent trend has emerged and it's depressing for the Lightning. It's this lack of scoring.

"It's tough when you don't score," Johnson said. "We feel like we can score. It's just a matter of time."

Here's the problem: Time is the one thing the Lightning doesn't really have.

In fact, by the looks of things, it has 60 minutes left.

And not a second more.